August 6 marks the Feast of the Transfiguration, commemorating the moment when Christ’s divine glory was revealed before his disciples Peter, James, and John.
The event is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Jesus takes his closest disciples up to the top of a mountain, where he is transfigured in dazzling glory. Moses and Elijah appear next to Jesus, talking with him about the exodus that he is to undertake.
The Transfiguration was established as a feast day in the Latin Rite Church by Pope Calixtus III in 1457. But Eastern Catholics were celebrating the Transfiguration for more than a thousand years before that — since the fourth century.
And in some Eastern Catholic communities, the Transfiguration has long been celebrated with a special tradition: blessing fruit.
The Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh elaborates, “The feast of the Holy Transfiguration is celebrated late in summer, at the time of the first fruits, which remind us of God’s great goodness and His infinite bounty. To express our recognition and gratitude to God for His generosity we bring some of these first fruits to the church for blessing.”
The archeparchy says the practice of Christians blessing fruits in church reaches back to apostolic times, the earliest days of the Church.
“The oldest prayer for the blessing of fruits is registered by the Apostolic Constitutions in the fourth century,” it says. “But there is also an older Prayer of Thanksgiving for the new fruits in the work of St. Hyppolytus, the Apostolic Tradition, composed about 220 A.D. St. Hippolytus mentions the following fruits usually blessed: grapes, figs, pomegranates, pears, mulberries, peaches, and almonds.”
The practice of blessing fruit on the Feast of the Transfiguration continues to this day in many Byzantine communities. Seasonal fruits are brought into the church, and a prayer is offered over them.
“O Lord God Jesus Christ, You said to Your disciples: ‘Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’ We now humbly beseech You, bless and sanctify these first-fruits which Your faithful servants have brought into Your temple today,” the prayer says.
“Preserve the life and health of all those who partake of them, those who are present here and those who are absent. Grant that these blessed first-fruits be an effective medicine for those who are sick and ailing, and a protection against the assaults of the enemy for those who keep them in their homes. May all those who partake of them enjoy the fullness of Your goodness and blessing,” it continues.
Fruit dishes, like pie, are also traditionally enjoyed in some Eastern communities on the feast day.